Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.*
Upon learning I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. In order to be as prepared and informed as possible, I vested much of my pregnancy educating myself. I read approximately 1,000 books, visited respected websites, and looked at as many pictures of good latches as possible, until I felt comfortable enough, and as prepared as I could be, with what was to come.
I found that many choices I needed to make regarding my labor could have an extremely high impact on the beginning of our breastfeeding relationship. Possible medical interventions such as the use of pitocin for induction or augmentation, amniotomy (breaking of my water), use of narcotics or analgesics for pain management, and especially the method of delivery could pose challenges for those first crucial minutes and hours when it is so important to get breastfeeding started on the right foot. So, I decided on no drugs, definitely no epidural, and most importantly, no c-section.
I am so grateful that the staff at the hospital was so supportive of breastfeeding. After I had the drugs…and the epidural…and yes, the c-section, my biggest concern, misguided though it may have been considering I just had major abdominal surgery, was breastfeeding my son. Stat! However, without me saying a word, the first thing the nurse in recovery asked me was “Are you going to be breastfeeding?” After emphatically and gratefully saying “Yes!” She brought my son to me; less than an hour after he had been delivered; quite fast for a c-section delivery. Within ten minutes, and with the support of the nurse and my husband, our little Dex latched right on. For the remainder of my hospital stay, I found nothing but complete support in breastfeeding our son. I was visited by the very knowledgeable hospital lactation consultant. She checked to see that Dex had a good latch, and gave me tips on how to make sure that he was actually transferring milk while nursing. She taught me how to use a pump, and what to expect from pump output, should the need arise. I was even given a chart to document Dex’s feeds, including when he nursed, which side he nursed on, and for how long. All of this support, combined with the fact that Dex seemed to have no trouble latching and efficiently nursing, laid the groundwork for a very smooth and relatively easy first year. For us, nursing was never a burden, and was always a very positive part of our dynamic. Even our second year was going great. And then came pregnancy.
Like the first time around, and knowing that I was completely ignorant to nursing in this situation, I went back to the books and the research. Because this is a topic which is not quite as familiar to many of us, I’m going to share some broad information that I found especially helpful, then offer my own anecdotal information.
1. Yes, for the majority of mothers, it is completely safe to nurse during pregnancy. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, talk to your OB about your particular situation, as it can still be safe for you, too!
2. 70% of mothers will experience a drop in supply. Also, because this drop in supply is caused by hormones, galactogogues (nutrients, supplements, medication, etc. used to increase milk supply) will not work. While this does not have to mean an end to your nursing relationship, it can mean a change in its dynamics.
3. Weaning may, or may not occur during pregnancy. This will be entirely between the mother and the nursling. Milk volume and/or the shift to colostrum can cause some nurslings to wean, while others carry on as if nothing has changed. Additionally, some mothers will find that they no longer enjoy breastfeeding, and will cut down or eliminate nursing sessions. Just remember that experiences during pregnancy are highly variable and, as always, it is entirely up to each mother to decide what is best in her particular situation.
4. Finally, and I’m taking this one directly from http://www.kellymom.com, “‘If you enjoy nursing your child before pregnancy, there is no reason to believe that pregnancy would change that…myth or fact?’ Myth…some mothers find that nursing during pregnancy causes pain, agitation, or nausea…”
Indeed. While the first year and a half of breastfeeding Dex can easily be depicted with happy-sunshine-sparkles-and-rainbows, things have certainly changed. And please, as I disclose these seven months (and going) of awesomesauce, remember that each mother/nursling relationship is different; this was simply my experience.
Being concerned with the big “when,” as in, when I would lose my supply, I was gently reminded in my first trimester that there is so much more to nursing while pregnant than simply one’s milk supply. Those first few months I had the pleasure of experiencing: sensitive nipples, nursing nausea, and nursing aversion. Such a short list, but each issue with its own challenge.
As I was just starting out researching the variables of nursing during pregnancy, I had not yet discovered that yes, nursing can cause nausea in some mothers. And yes, there is such a thing as nursing aversion (also known as nursing agitation.) This is not to be confused with that oh-so-common feeling of having a baby constantly attached and just needing to get away. No. Nursing aversion, for me, meant that every time I breastfed my son, my skin crawled. It was a visceral reaction to him being latched on, and it meant that every single nursing session was a “Get-this-child-off-of-me-I’m-going-to-throw-him-on-the-ground-if-he-does-not-unlatch-NOW!” I felt like I wanted to do *anything* to just stop the nursing…and it was horrible. I didn’t understand that this also is a very common reaction, driven by pregnancy hormones. At the time, Dex also became lazy in his latch, and no longer flanged his lower lip out, which equated to an incessant scraping of his teeth on the bottom of my nipples. To be blunt, the first trimester sucked.
Fortunately, the second and third trimesters have not been so miserable. The sensitive nipples have, mostly, calmed down. Nursing nausea went away as I headed into the second trimester, and though my milk did go away at the end of the second trimester, Dex wasn’t phased by it at all, and a couple weeks later, my colostrum came in. However, nursing aversion, though not as severe as that first trimester, has not gone away. It does not happen as frequently, but it is there, and it has certainly affected the way that I look at our breastfeeding relationship.
I am humbled and challenged by the obstacles in this second year. Something that once symbolized all that is nurturing and postiive has been marred by the tolls of pregnancy. I am so grateful, and know we are blessed, to be expecting this next baby. Yet that knowledge does not diminish the fact that I am a little sad that Dex’s and my breastfeeding journey has taken this particular turn.
We are not done yet, though. I have never had a timeline of breastfeeding goals for Dex. Never have I wanted to make it to a certain age, or even to tandem nurse him and his brother. My only goal has been to be patient and follow his lead. As with all of his milestones, he will make it clear when the time is right. If that means going on to tandem nurse Dex and his brother, wonderful! If it means stopping tomorrow, then that’s okay, too. In the meantime, it is my job to be here for him, and to be intuitive and informed enough to read his signals, and respond accordingly.
*Happily borrowed from The Sound of Music
If you have any questions, or are curious about breastfeeding, regardless of where you are in the journey, please check out these resources!
kellymom.com – Filled with research-based information covering numerous areas of nursing. From pregnancy, to toddlerhood, and anywhere in between, it is easy to navigate and a wonderful reference.
llli.org – La Leche League International’s website is great not only for researching different topics of breastfeeding, but also for finding online, on-the-phone, or in-person support. They even have a help line, if you need help *now*.
Kellymom Mother to Mother Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook – As well-informed as the website, with the added benefit of community support and a very highly-moderated forum.
Kellymom Mother to Mother Pregnancy Support Group on Facebook – For all pregnant mothers, whether breastfeeding or not.